Here’s everything we learned from this map of London’s defunct tram network

Those were the days: London’s lost tram routes. Image: Getty.

In 1860, George Francis Train, an eccentric American rail magnate who seemed to be in the grip of some form of some form of nominative determinism, created London’s first tram: a horse-drawn route along Victoria Street. The following year, he was nicked, for “breaking and injuring” the Uxbridge Road.

That wasn’t enough to stop the rise of the tram, of course. In 1870 they were officially authorised by act of parliament, and for the next eighty years, they were a big part of London life.

But the last routes of that original network closed in 1952. Since then they’ve been erased so completely from our mental image of London that more than one person has acted surprised when I told them there were trams on the streets of south London today.

Part of the problem is that there was never a tram equivalent of the tube map, to lock them into the city’s cultural memory. On scattered corners of the internet you can find photographs of old maps, but they’re generally so tiny it’s all but impossible to see where the trams actually went.

Normally here we say click to expand, but not much point to be honest.

Luckily then, that somebody’s done it properly:

You can zoom into this on ShareMap.org, to check exactly which roads the trams served (though sadly, not which trams served which routes). But in case that sounds like a lot of effort, here are some thoughts.


Trams didn’t go to posh places

There are almost no trams in Westminster: one route down Vauxhall Bridge Road, another on the Embankment, but that’s about it. They’re even less of a factor in chichi Kensington which, best I can tell, had not a single inch of track.

This might have reflected lack of demand, due to private cars or the tube. Or it might simply be that the locals didn’t allow anyone to build the bloody things.

Trams barely went to the City

At Aldgate, Moorgate, the north ends of the bridges: time and again, the boundaries of the square mile mark the end of the line. Again, this might reflect the fact the tube was providing transport instead – but it’s hard to miss the whiff of NIMBYism to which the Corporation of London remained committed right up until around 2000, when it realised Canary Wharf was about to eat its lunch.

Trams didn’t go to Hampstead

I was going to suggest this might be because they didn’t cope well with hills, but they made it up to Highgate okay. Once again, I suspect the influence of posh residents is at work here.

Trams refresh the parts other transport modes cannot reach

Nonetheless, it’d be silly to ignore the influence of the Underground on the map of London’s tram network altogether.

By the 1930s, the tube was all but complete: no Victoria line, and no Jubilee (although the bit from Baker Street to Stanmore was already running, as part of the Bakerloo), but otherwise the map would have been pretty recognisable to the modern commuter. That means that, at the peak of the tram network, the tube was already showing its prominent north western bias.

And this, one suspects, is one reason the tram network was so much more extensive to the east and south of the city centre. Places like Lewisham, Brixton or Hackney weren’t on the tube – but that didn’t matter so much because they had trams instead.

At any rate, back in the day, north east London had a tram on almost every significant road:

If the big gap around Hackney Wick looks like a hole in the network, it’s worth remembering that, as recently as 10 years ago, that was still basically industrial wasteland.

Similarly, while the area round the Old Kent Road may have neither tube nor rail lines, it did at least have trams back in the day.

So it’s probably no coincidence that…

Trams served the parts of town now dependent on buses

…many of London’s busiest bus corridors are routes which were once served by tram. On this map, you can trace the route of the 38, all the way from Clapton Pond to Holborn, or the 53 from Plumstead to Westminster.

The Kingsway Tunnel was the Crossrail of its day

Okay not really, but it felt like a good tagline.

As noted a few paragraphs back, very few trams penetrated into either the City of Westminster. That meant that, just like their bigger, heavier train counterparts, very few trams could cross central London.

There was, however, a single line which ran from one side of London to the other, using which trams could travel from north London to south. At Southampton Row, just north of Holborn, trams would drop into a tunnel under Kingsway, serving two underground stops at Holborn and Aldwych, before emerging on the Embankment under Waterloo Bridge. From there, they would use Westminster or Blackfriars Bridges to continue their journey south. (I’d always assumed they’d cross the bridge, but turns out I assumed wrong).

The southern part of the tunnel is still in use, as the Strand Underpass – but now it is used entirely by cars. Which feels horribly fitting, somehow.

If you’d like to explore the map in greater detail, you can do so here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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